By TOM LEA
MADISON – Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser has only made three 3-point shots throughout the course of No. 17 Wisconsin’s past five games.
Apparently he was just waiting for Penn State to come to town to break out of his perimeter slump.
UW’s sophomore guard stroked three 3-pointers during three consecutive possessions as Wisconsin blew open a slow-starting game midway through the first half and utilized that 15-4 run to beat a feisty Penn State squad 65-55.
“He was open,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “He’s never been told not to shoot when he’s open. He has a different trigger than some guys. He knows he doesn’t have the quickest release, but it’s not the slowest.
“He found himself in a position to make some things happen.”
Wisconsin hit 7-of-14 shots from the perimeter during the first half of Sunday’s contest, a win that kept a stronghold on the fourth-place slot in the Big Ten standings.
It led 35-21 when the first 20 minutes had expired.
“You expect that (shooting) from a Bo Ryan Wisconsin type team,” Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. “Especially in the first half.”
Trailing by 20 with 11:55 to play in the second half, Penn State could have folded and limped out of Madison with its tail between its legs. Instead it looked a Wisconsin team in the midst of its best shooting night, both from the field and from beyond the arc, in seven games dead in the eye.
Penn State roared back with a 17-2 run that cut the Badgers lead to five with less than six minutes to play, tailored by a hard charging Tim Frazier who scored eight of his game-high 20 points during that stretch.
That’s when UW’s junior center, Jared Berggren, one of four Badger starters to tally double-digit scoring, hit a pair of backbreaking 3-pointers to soothe over what had become an increasingly anxious Kohl Center crowd.
“I think it was just within the offense,” UW senior Jordan Taylor, finishing with 11 points and four assists, said of Berggren’s second half perimeter shooting. “He said he just sent a down screen and popped out. He was wide-open.
“It was pretty simple.”
Berggren’s initial 3-pointer squelched a rallying Penn State squad by reestablishing an eight-point lead. His second pushed UW’s lead to nine with just less than four minutes to play.
Penn State never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
“Those two 3’s he hit were the difference,” Chambers said. “I thought we battled back and did some good things, but they were daggers.”
Gasser, who led all UW scorers with 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting (3-of-5 from downtown), Berggren (13) and Ryan Evans (11 ) joined Jordan Taylor as double-digit scorers.
Mike Bruesewitz (7 points), Ben Brust (6 points) and Frank Kaminsky (2 points) rounded out the Badgers scoring. It was clear Wisconsin wanted to be more aggressive on the offensive end early against Penn State, especially after having such a sour taste lingering overhead following a disappointing loss at Michigan State Thursday night.
“We didn’t emphasize (aggression) any less or any more because we don’t know what the defense is going to do,” Ryan said. “So you prepare for everything, but it wasn’t as if we said ‘this is what we have to do.’
“We read and react to every defense.”
The Badgers outrebounded Penn State 38-27 and were led by Bruesewitz’s career-best 12 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass. UW also reverted back to Ryan’s old mantra of making more free throws (14) than Penn State attempted (11).
With the win UW improves to 9-5 in league play. It sits two games behind first-place Michigan State and one game behind both Ohio State and Michigan with four league games remaining on the regular season schedule.
-With its win, UW has won at least 20 games for six-straight seasons, good for the second longest streak in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State’s seven-consecutive 20-win seasons is better.
-The Badgers also extended their home winning streak against Penn State. UW has now won 15-straight home games against the Nittany Lions, good for the 4th-longest active streak in the Big Ten.
-With an 82.5 percent effort from the charity stripe, Wisconsin improved its conference-leading Big Ten mark to 77.5 percent on the year.
-Wisconsin has won 54-straight games when its shoots a better field-goal percentage than its opponents. UW posted a 42.6 percent clip compared to Penn State’s 39.3 shooting percentage.
-Gasser hit all six free throws he attempted against Penn State.
-With 11 points against Penn State, junior Ryan Evans has logged double-digit scoring in each of UW’s past six games. He’s averaging 13.7 points per game during that stretch.
-With his 11 points against the Nittany Lions, Taylor has now gone 17-consecutive games with double-figure scoring.